Dr Kelly Klingler

Undergraduate research experience is a high-impact learning practice that offers myriad benefits for students. Being involved in real-world research strengthens their academic foundation and enhances their professional and personal development (Ahmad & Al-Thani, 2022; Chamely-Wiik, 2023; Rix, 2023). Despite such benefits, research practice at the undergraduate level is not available to most students (Kuh, 2008): only 10% of undergraduates have the chance to conduct real research in a tenure-track faculty member's lab (Stout, 2018). 

Dr. Kelly Klingler, a faculty member in the Department of Environmental Conservation, actively seeks to address this equity gap in apprenticeships. To offer research opportunities to more students, she has introduced Course Undergraduate-based Research Experiences (CUREs) into her curriculum. CUREs describe a set of educational experiences in which all students enrolled in a course engage in research to address real-world questions or issues in a tangible, meaningful way.

Why CUREs?

Dr. Klingler believes that students need to engage in the process of authentic research to develop the critical scientific skills needed in today’s marketplace (PCAST, 2012). The CUREs program, moreover, has been a key to retention in STEM especially in 1st and 2nd years (Graham et al. 2013; Waynant et al. 2022), especially when implemented across multiple semesters (Freeman et al., 2014; Theobald et al., 2020; Cooper et al., 2020). 

Indeed, several studies point to the significant gains in student learning outcomes and sense of belonging in STEM that CURE-based coursework can provide particularly for underrepresented students (Waynant et al., 2022; Alvarez-Berrios & Haynes, 2023). Rather than “canned lab exercises” where the answer is known, CUREs provide students with the opportunity to make new discoveries that are relevant to the larger scientific community and have the capacity to inform the direction of future research (Dolan & Weaver, 2021).

How does it work?

CUREs involve a scaffolded pedagogy in which students are guided through the scientific process with the ultimate goal of contributing meaningful data and novel findings to the field (Dolan & Weaver, 2021). CUREs are flexible in design and may be implemented as a stand-alone module within a single semester, scaffolded across an entire semester, or even conducted across multiple semesters within a course sequence.

Dr. Klingler has guided her students through multiple types of CUREs which typically follow a three-part process: 1) theoretical background and hypothesis formulation, 2) fieldwork and data collection, and finally, 3) data analysis and scientific communication. The CURE described below was developed as a module by Squirrel-Net, a team of mammalogists from campuses across the United States focused on developing CUREs to investigate squirrel behavior and ecology (Dizney et al., 2020; Yahnke et al., 2020). Dr. Klingler implemented this module for 3-4 weeks within an upper-division course of 30 students that she co-taught with Dr. Nathan Senner.

Steps in implementing the CUREs Project

Expand each item to learn more about the steps.

Are there any challenges?

The main challenges when implementing this CURE project were often related to data wrangling, statistical analysis, and interpretation of findings. Students often found that one Data Analysis workshop was not sufficient for all teams to work through this quantitative process. To address this issue, Dr Klingler doubled the time allocated to data management and provided a greater number of introductory tutorials to get them started. She also provided tutorials to students to practice using a fake dataset that would be similar to the kinds of data they were collecting.

What do students think about the project?

Dr. Klingler received positive responses from her students. They highly valued the hands-on, practical aspects of the project. They particularly appreciated the field labs and team research projects for their engaging and interactive nature. Rather than just talking about science, students actually participate in real-world field research, encountering all of its nuances such as unpredictable weather during data collection and messy datasets. They have to justify statistical decisions, interpret their findings, and hone best practices for data visualization. 

Any recommendations?

  • Make it team-based and hypothesis-driven
  • Assume you will need more time than you think
  • Offer 1-2 data analysis workshops to help guide students in this quantitative process
  • Grade students at key points in the process (data collection, analysis, summary report) and provide guiding rubrics in advance of grading 
  • Provide a mechanism for peer review so that students can report their own individual contributions to these team-based assignments as well as that of their peers. 

Dr. Klingler’s approach not only democratizes research opportunities but also emphasizes the importance of teamwork and hypothesis-driven inquiry. It helps foster the creation of a community of scholars essential to the intellectual health of the university. 

Moreover, observing the impacts of this kind of experience first-hand has inspired Dr. Klingler to continue partnering with groups that have already developed CUREs and to start designing her own. If you’re interested in implementing CUREs or want to discuss more, you can reach Dr. Klingler at @email

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